House Of Cards: Our First Reaction
Posted on Tuesday February 5, 2013, 11:57 by Olly Richards in Small Screen
The opening salvo in Netflix’ televisual revolution is predictably glossy, starry and expensive. But the streamer’s first move into original programming is also bravely adult, reaching for its audience with smart dialogue, tangles of political backstabbing, and slow burn storylines. It’s gunning for the prestige of HBO, not the ass ‘n’ action of Starz. And it’s a killer first blow.
Based on the British mini-series of the same name, now some 23 years old, itself adapted from Michael Dobbs' novel, House of Cards chronicles the slithering rise of Francis Underwood, a US congressman denied the position promised him by a newly-elected President. Not one to let even the slightest of betrayals go unpunished, Underwood begins a scheme that will destroy as many people as necessary in order to achieve what he wants. He’s the most dangerous creature in Washington, a man of great pettiness and almost limitless power. Underwood is brought to life by Kevin Spacey, greatly enjoying the frequent opportunities to be an absolute shit and always poised just at the brink of going over the top with the fourth-wall-breaking winks to camera and chewy Southern accent. It’s the juiciest role he’s had in years and he squeezes it until the pips squeak.
David Fincher sets the tone with the opening two episodes (he then hands over the reins to a series of other directors), a chilly two hours in which we are given absolutely nobody to like but plenty of people by whom to be fascinated. There’s disastrous, drug-fuelled senator Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), whose reliable idiocy makes him Underwood’s ideal puppet; punchy reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara, sister of other Fincher muse Rooney) whose unfocused ambition works for Underwood both professionally and sexually; and rising imperiously above them all, Underwood’s wife Claire (Robin Wright), a charity worker whose good deeds are driven by a heart apparently hacked from ice and who is the only person capable of manipulating her husband. Wright is magnificent in the role, Lady Macbeth in tasteful tailoring. None of these people is a hero. They’re all on some level completely awful, but it’s the depths and motivations of that awfulness and the twists of their plots that are so alluring. You cheer them on to badness. Fincher establishes a shady mood, the atmosphere and visuals all steely cool. Even the scenes set in daytime feel leeched of light and warmth. It’s an entire story told in the shadows. There’s wit but no jokes and every laugh is at someone’s expense.
Some of the richest moments are the frequent late-night catch-ups shared by Frank and Claire, perched on their windowsill sharing a cigarette and breathing out their indiscretions, all infidelities casually revealed and examined for how they might advance the couple. It’s a wonderfully weird relationship, the pair written as completely in love but also laser-focused on advancing their respective and combined position. If a little extra-marital sex can get them closer to the goal then it’s all good sport. Though the writing throughout is clever and succinct throughout, it flows best from these two.
Whether House of Cards is the first step in a new way of consuming television – either eking out or bingeing on all 13 episodes as you wish – is Netflix’ and the TV channels’ concern. All pioneering aside, House of Cards is one of the most absorbing and intelligent shows to come along in quite some time. It’s a joy to watch absolute power corrupt so creatively.
Login or register to comment.
Posted on Tuesday February 5, 2013, 12:47
Watched the first episode on Netflix last night. Really liked it, very classy, great score and the script is razor sharp "I love my wife more than sharks love blood" superb!
Posted on Tuesday February 5, 2013, 15:37
As with most shows you have to stick with it for a while before you're addicted.
But 3 episodes in and I'm already craving more although as good as Kate Mara is, I can't help but think her sister would have been better in the role of Zoe.
I love the fact that the entire series is instantly available to watch at my own pace, the episodes aren't forced to be a certain length and that the show isn't filled with crappy mini-cliffhangers that you get with most other TV shows that have adverts.
I'm also hoping that Netflix can get a better selection of shows and films in the next year or so. £6 a month isn't much, but compared to the US Version of Netflix, the UK are really behind with the amount of content available.
Posted on Tuesday February 5, 2013, 15:44
They've got some very good material to work with, i've not read the book but the first British serial was excellent and riveting stuff.
bill the butcher
Posted on Wednesday February 6, 2013, 00:42
i love that show IN TREATMENT
Posted on Wednesday February 6, 2013, 20:28
I'm 6 episodes in and as an original champion of the BBC series I'm hugely impressed no other living American actor could have played Francis Underwood better than Spacey and even those his interpretation is his own I do see the odd flicker of Ian Richardson's Francis Urqhart in his performance. Spacey simply sizzles and his southern accented turn is a joy to watch.
The first 2 episodes directed by Fincher are top notch and Robin Wright's Claire is brilliant. Can't wait for more and hope the momentum is kept up, I wonder how long we'll wait for the 2nd series already commissioned?
Posted on Thursday February 7, 2013, 12:58
I'm 6 episodes in too and this is an impressive start for Netflix as a specially commissioned series. It's very good but there have been a few spurious story arcs that, in my opinion, stop it from being great TV. The one that revolved around the death caused by the giant peach, for example. Is the US so litigious that dying due to using a mobile phone could be disregarded and blame attached to the actual subject matter of the text? The resolving of this was too neat and cliched but made even more fantastical by Frank powering through his Education Bill by conference call at the same time. And the "lets have the party on the hotel front porch" piece was pure hokum. That would never have had a sniff of coming together in the real world for a multitude of reasons - health and safety being in the top three. And what's with this "special relationship" he has with the soul food guy?? Is this going somewhere or is it an oblique metaphor? Right now it strikes me as pretty patronising and the character is a dimension short of being one dimensional.
Good TV? Yes. Realistic TV, not a bit. The Thick Of It is more representative of the murky machinations of politics.
Posted on Thursday February 7, 2013, 13:55
Watched the whole series and its been excellent. Its the kind of role Kevin Spacey was born to play and even though the characters are initially set up as unlikeable you warm to them, especially Corey Stoll as the recovering junior senator who's always being manipulated. Even Frank gets to show a different side in the episode where he gets a library named after him which shows his character in a much nicer light.
All in all its been 5 star viewing in my opinion
Posted on Friday February 8, 2013, 01:16
Amazing show, really on a different intellectual level to most things on tv. Mostly avoids using the cheap end of the episode cliffhangers that are so prevalent on tv as mentioned above, and runs a nice coherent story with no 'new crime to solve' episodic structure of 99% of crap on tv.
Joel Schumacher directs a few episode, love that guy Falling Down is one of my favorite movies of all time.
My only beef is that even tho Underwood is a mastermind in his own right, it's hard to believe the Vice President and the President would be so stupid and naive to fall into his trap. The whole 'he said this behind ur back' is just a bit too obviously manipulative.
Anywho still an amazing show, love the fact there is no hero and Frank isn't even an anti hero, he's just an asshole. 5/5
Posted on Friday February 8, 2013, 09:47
@lankeymarlon, it is in fact possible to access the US Netflix selection in the UK if you are watching on a PS3 and do a little jiggery pokery with the settings, the info on how to do so is easy enough to find online, I'd explain myself but I did it months ago and am far too dense to adequately explain it without tying myself up in knots :) The US selection is vast and already has movies as new as V/H/S ready to stream.